The Where I Live series aims to showcase our diverse city and region by spotlighting its many vibrant neighborhoods. Each week a local resident invites us over and lets us in on what makes their neighborhood special. Have we been to your neighborhood yet? Get in touch to share your story.
I was raised on the South Side of town, and the area where I live was historically significant way before it became a World Heritage Site. The community that so deeply influenced my life is still referred to as the Mission San José neighborhood, and I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive because my original home stood on what I affectionately call the San José compound. On any given day I could look out my bedroom window and watch the sun rise and set over the church bell tower. The sight was magnificent and unforgettable.
The students who attended Wright Elementary in the 1960s were a diverse bunch by my standards. They were Polish, German, Spanish and Mexican. Don’t think for a moment that as 6-year-old kids we ever spoke of our heritage, though. We were busy learning and running around at recess and deciding which boys and girls were really cute.
Little did I know then how fortunate I was. I was being raised in a place where the color of my skin didn’t matter, a place where you would hear all genres of music being played on the radio or at house parties. My family and I appreciated Patsy Cline’s talent as well as Sunny Ozuna, Flaco Jiménez, Little Joe, and The Jackson 5. Because my grandma’s family was Italian we also listened to a lot of Dean Martin. We loved to dance. Many of the homes in the neighborhood had large concrete patios, either in the front or backyard, and that’s where we danced. There was not a celebration that didn’t involve dancing.
We didn’t go out to eat much, but Griff’s was our favorite burger place and Pan American Restaurant was one of the few establishments open 24 hours. So after proms, that is where we went with our dates for a late-night dinner.
But what was most fun about growing up in the Mission San José neighborhood was barbecuing at Espada Park back when families were allowed to wade in the San Antonio River near the dam. In second place was packing the car with kids, snacks and colchas and watching movies at the Mission Drive Inn. It was so much fun! Extended family joined us and we parked next to each other. My cousins and I mostly played and ran round and round our cars.
Playing baseball and softball was and still is a huge deal in my family and other families on the South Side. You couldn’t be born into the Pacheco family and not play ball. We started early and joined Catholic Youth Organization teams. All our games were played at Don Bosco Fields off Mission Road. I remember hundreds of families from Southside churches participating as well. The park was well kept, and if you retrieved a foul ball, you got a free raspa from the concessions stand. Yipee! Sadly, the fields are still there but there is not near the same participation and excitement as before.
Back then in my hood at Christmas, many grandmas and moms made tamales. My grandma prepared the masa and fillings and her daughters-in-law spread the masa on corn husks. The men set up a huge cauldron in our backyard and cooked hundreds of tamales while they drank beer and told stories into the wee hours of the morning. We ate tamales for several weeks after Christmas. My sisters and I added ketchup on ours and munched on potato chips. It was delicious.
There are still some families around San Jose that make homemade tamales, I’m sure, but not many. Instead, we order dozens around the holidays from different molinos around town.
I always worked north of the neighborhood because that is where I could find a job that paid me a decent salary. But every evening as I drove home, a sense of comfort would overcome me as I exited Loop 410 at Roosevelt because I knew I was almost home.
I’ve been called a community activist. If that means that I’m trying to help improve the quality of life in my hood, then, yes, I am. I have been a member of City Council District 3 committees and commissions and continue that work today. But I helped my neighbors by being politically active since before I could vote. I’ve spent a lot of time campaigning for folks who I felt really cared about paving streets, building colleges on the South Side and creating libraries for youth and adults.
Today, I frequent and support local restaurants like Nicha’s and Bill Miller’s and shop at South Park Mall. I would love, however, to see more mom-and-pop shops in the community and a variety of restaurants. Not big chain places but maybe a family-owned pizza parlor. I love the Mission Marquee and Mission Library. Great programs and events are happening there every week.
What I am most concerned about today is that many of the descendants of the earliest families of San Antonio who settled in this neighborhood are considering leaving the humble homes they inherited from their ancestors. Property taxes have become a burden.
I’m a proud resident of the Mission San José neighborhood, where I live — and where I hope to die. I am most proud because I have proof that my ancestors’ footprints are right here in the same place where my daughter and I still walk. I may even write a book about it someday.